B. 1947, France
The work of Michel Nedjar is haunted by a confrontation with the mysteries of existence and the mutability of being, whether actively sought or suddenly imposed upon us. He is best known for his early series of poupées (ca. 1976-1998), biomorphic sculptures made from scrap, manipulated cloth which often evoke grotesque hybrid beings that might emerge from personal or collective nightmares.
Nedjar was born in the aftermath of the Holocaust to a family of Jews who immigrated to France from Algeria and Eastern Europe, many of whose close relatives were murdered in the Shoah, a history of which he was only vaguely aware until a 1960 viewing of Alain Resnais’s film Night and Fog. Suddenly, the horror of the extermination camps became disturbingly real through the visual image. Nedjar recalled: “Everything collapsed within me.... I now knew that the other could kill me. I identified with the corpses. I felt the violence.”
In the late 1970s, during a two-year period of extreme depression, he began creating his dark and foreboding poupées. Strongly visceral, the dolls’ dense materiality bears meaning as fully as do their figurative associations. They are constructed primarily out of pieces of old cloth that are sewn, tied, and bundled around masses of straw, raffia, and sticks. Many were bathed in a mixture of water and dye, mud, or blood, then hung them up to shrivel and dry–all contributing to their organic presence and their aged mien, as well as evoking a latent horror.
Nedjar’s drawings can be unsettling as well. They intimate other dimensions just beyond the known boundaries of our daily existence. Mysterious, incompletely articulated faces and figures emerge from the dense grounds, seemingly ready to either invade our space or invite us into some deep dimension behind them. The drawings have a thick materiality. Accreted layers of graphite, ink, paint, and wax, usually applied directly by hand, are melted by the passage of a hot pressing iron, which partially uncovers—or, as Nedjar has said, “unburies,”—what was previously painted and covered over in successive layers.
Nedjar’s work has been exhibited extensively across Europe and the United States, including at La Pinacothèque (Luxemburg, 2019), Kunstforum (Vienna, 2018), Lille Métropole Musée d'art moderne, d'art contemporain et d'art brut (2017), Halle Saint Pierre (Paris, 2015) and the Milwaukee Art Museum (2012). His work is in the permanent collections of Centre Pompidou (Paris), Collection de l’Art Brut (Lausanne), Lille Métropole Musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut, The American Folk Art Museum (New York), The Milwaukee Art Museum and Musée National d’Art Moderne (Paris).